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Thursday 25 June 2009

The Planning Dooda

Minefield alert – this post is about to discuss modern architecture. I looked a while ago at the controversy over plans to redevelop the site of the former Chelsea Barracks in London, and the interest taken in it by Prince Charles. This had stirred up much of the architectural establishment: they were then brought to boiling point when the planning application was withdrawn a week ago. The Guardian has the details here.

M’Lord Rogers, he of Wobbly Bridge fame, and whose architectural practice had produced the now abandoned design, is not a happy bunny. But then he and Charles have previous. Also, the Rogers design did not enjoy universal support: residents had opposed it, as had Kit Malthouse, Bozza’s deputy at City Hall.

It would perhaps have been better for the planning application to have been considered and either accepted or rejected in the same way as thousands of others. That may have proved more acceptable to Rogers and all those other architects who have taken such exception to Charles’ pronouncements. But the site is owned by the Qatari royal family, and they made the decision not to take the proposal further.

Meanwhile, the controversy over Charles’ involvement will rage on. But his is not the only voice raised against modern architecture: party politicians routinely use it as a convenient whipping boy, as with proposed new council offices in the city of Chester. Ian Simpson’s futuristic proposal was dubbed the “glass slug” by a local journalist, the name stuck, and the Tories shamelessly exploited public opposition to the new building to get control of the City Council in 2007. The proposal has since been abandoned.

So what will happen to Chelsea Barracks? The Qataris are said to be taking a more considered approach. And in Chester? They’ve had local government reorganisation recently – so forget any new offices for some time yet.

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